Wordle: Leadership Day: The Pace of Change
Leadership Day: The Pace of Change, from Practical Theory by Chris Lehmann

In my last two posts, I wrote about the responsibilities that go along with using powerful technology tools, both for students and for teachers. Today I will consider a third group: administrators.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recognizes the importance of strong leadership to the effective use of technology in schools, shown by the fact that they have developed national standards for administrators. It is not enough to simply create policies aimed at enforcing safety and productivity for students and teachers. Administrators must accept their responsibility for visionary leadership, which takes several forms.

Understand

Just as teachers and students must understand a new tool or technique before they can use it properly, administrators must deeply understand what is happening in the realm of technology if they are going to be able to lead effectively. This means learning about research and best practices.

It also requires them to use the technologies themselves. Consider what a “chalkboard policy” might have looked like if designed by administrators who had never used one:

  1. Chalkboards by nature are open and accessible forums, and as such have inherent risks involved with their use. In the best interests of student and employee safety, it is the policy of this administration to restrict access to chalkboards and to monitor their use at all times.
  2. Chalkboards will be maintained behind a locked panel when not in use. The key to this panel is available in the main office of each school building and must be signed out when needed.
  3. Only authorized brands of yellow or white chalk may be used on District chalkboards. Other writing implements, including but not limited to colored chalk, serve no discernible educational purpose and are forbidden.
  4. Only those who have a signed “Chalkboard User Agreement” on file may write on the chalkboard at any time.
  5. The use of the chalkboard is a privilege, which may be revoked by the administrators at any time for abusive conduct or violations of this agreement.
Of course, there are many places where the parallels break down, and it is not my intent to make light of the real issues and risks involved with Internet use by students. I believe, however, that if more administrators had a thorough understanding of the tools affected by their policies, those policies would have a different focus.

Plan

Many districts seem to think that the principle of reverse psychology–where doing the opposite of what is expected will have more powerful results–also applies to policy implementation in this three-step process:

  1. Implement new policy
  2. Determine how the policy should work (usually after 6-12 months of practice)
  3. Decide whether the policy was warranted in the first place (often after a year or two of failure)

In reality there must be thorough planning before a policy can be put into effect, with consideration for how it will impact all areas of curriculum and instruction.

Another, more subtle sort of planning is required if the use of technology tools is going to be anything other than just a tacked-on option to an already overstuffed curriculum. This is where a clear, long-range vision for the future is crucial. The higher in an organization an administrator rises, the more that person needs to see the big picture and proactively design, not manage, what that picture will look like as the district develops.

Model

Educators know that more powerful than telling is showing. Good teachers build modeling into their instruction because it provides students with an example of what skilled, expert use looks like.

Administrators cannot expect teachers and students to simply follow their vision with having an example to follow. If administrators expect technology tools to be used properly, they must show what that proper use looks like. If they want to see more students and teachers blogging, they must blog. If they want to see Twitter used as a professional tool rather than simply a social one, they must be on Twitter themselves.

Communicate

A clear, effective vision will never become reality until it is communicated with those who are ultimately required to put it into effect. Just as teachers must communicate with students, giving feedback, sharing goals, setting expectations, administrators must communicate in all the same ways with their constituents.

Conclusion

Implementing technology responsibly and effectively is a complex thing. Because it has so much power, I believe it would be irresponsible not to embrace these tools in schools today. Many students, teachers, and administrators are understandably reluctant to take on the responsibilities that come along with the power of the tools. But like Peter Parker, who received his powers without asking for them, we cannot ignore them. We have to dive in, accept the fact that we have been handed great responsibilities, and use our powers to become superheros instead of villains.

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